on 11 July 2012
The author clearly succeeds in bringing to life this dark episode or roman military history. The account is gripping and its quite difficult to put the book down.
However, as explained in other reviews, this osprey is highly speculative. One may struggle to sort out author's invention and solid facts. This made me wonder at the veracity of some parts. One thing that I always found derouting with the ospreys it the confusion between the order of the plates, 3d bird eye views and text parts, etc.
Despite the above, the book is very well presente, beautiful plates, good structure and right amount of details for a 100pages book.
The author's writing style is very fluid and enjoyable.
on 2 March 2011
If you have any interest in Roman military history and would like to know about an incident that surpasses anything portrayed in modern day stories or horror films then I would highly recommend this book. The only reason I haven't given it five stars is because its short, just less than a hundred pages.
The book based on finds and what historians say about the incident concerns the complete destruction of three Roman legions estimated by some to be over twenty five thousand men, including baggage carts etc by Germainc tribes in the Forest of Teutoburg.
General Varus led his army into what he believed was relatively friendly terrority with the aid of Arminius a Germanic Prince who had been incarcerated in Rome from an early age and brought up on their traditions, education and even served in the legions.
Arminius however, obviously haboured a deep hatred for Rome and led Varus into a trap in the forest. The book tells the story of how the army was trapped in an isolated area and initially attacked by skirmishers and forced to stop and fortify their positions.
Varus realising that being cut off and isolated, he and his men couldn't survive, tried to march his army out of the forest but was slowly but surely cut and worn down. What followed was the complete destruction of three legions and their attempts to survive, that failed.
An excellent but small book on the story which is beautifully illustrated with artist impressions, photographs of the parties involved and finds from the site, highly recommended!
This is a rather good Osprey campaign title on the destruction of Varus' legions in AD 9 in the forests of Germany. As usual with the collection, and assuming you already know about the event and its background, do not expect to learn much knew about it. However, it presents a good and at times excellent, at times superb overview of what seems to have happened, using both the sources and the archaeological findings at Kalkriese to offer a reconstruction of the battle.
There are some glitches and disputable points. While significantly better than Peter Wells' sensational, incorrect and gory "story-telling" (as opposed to history, see "the Battle than Stopped Rome"), this book also has to deal with the issue that we know virtually nothing of the three-battle that saw the Germans destroy the legions. The second half of the book relating this battle is therefore mostly, if not entirely, speculative, something that the author fails to acknowledge explicitly. At times, the author is also tempted to go for the same kind of "drama" and "visual effects" which makes up most of Wells' book. There is a good side to this, of course: it makes it easier for the reader to imagine what happened. The other side of the coin, however, is that these kinds of tricks duplicate with the illustrations and may tend to obscure some important points.
There are two points, in particular, which the book could have made and which are hardly discussed at all. The author mentions that most of the legates were killed and that Varus himself seems to have committed suicide by the end of the second day, leaving only two camp prefects in command of the survivors. According to the author, these would still have made up to half the initial force although this, again, is pure speculation. However, he never really gets to discussing how come ALL of the most senior Roman officers seem to have been put out of action. The suicide of Varus is dismissed in a rather cursory way: he must have been either despairing or badly wounded, according to the author. This, however, is not good enough. Unless he was dying of his wounds, it is difficult to see why he would have committed suicide at this stage (as opposed to latter, if he had managed to extricate part of the command). It also does not explain how such a high proportion of the Roman senior command was taken down. I could not help wandering, for instance, whether they were deliberately targeted.
A second, and more important point, that should have been discussed, is the Romans' perseverance is going down the unknown western route instead of falling back. While the book clearly shows to what extent Varus was abused, it does not explain why he persisted in following his initial plan, once it was clear that Arminius had betrayed them. Arguably, and with hindsight, you would think that instead of pressing on into enemy and unknown territory, he probably should have fallen back on the bases he had established along the water courses, and which the book describes very well.
Finally, there are the illustrations, which are mostly superb. The one titled "Death in the forest", where a centurion is beset by half a dozen German warriors, is particularly good, but also perhaps a little problematic. The centurion is described as "attempting to shield the remainder of his unit who are following as best as they can" and these are illustrated by a legionary helping along his wounded comrade a few meters behind the centurion. I could not help finding this second group somewhat "unrealistic". Since the centurion is fighting one against six, would you except the unwounded legionary to come to his help rather than to continue plodding along with his wounded fellow soldier?
Anyway, despite these few quibbles, this book has many qualities. In particular, the summaries of the prequel and sequel to the battle - the Roman campaigns in Germany under Drusus the Elder and Tiberius, and then those of Germanicus - are rather good. The author shows that, despite the shock of defeat, the "disaster" needs to be toned down. The frontiers were not threatened and the Romans had the means to hold the Rhine frontier. Also good are the explanations showing that it is Tiberius, not Augustus, who decided to pull back along the Rhine and abandon the idea of creating a province of Germania because it was not worth the trouble or the expenditure.
This book is worth a solid four star.